Archive for the ‘YA Literature’ Category

I discovered Jason Reynolds sometime back and I decided to read this book of his, ‘Long Way Down‘.

Will is talking to his friend Tony when they get caught in the middle of a gangfight. When the smoke clears, Will discovers that his big brother Shawn has been shot dead. In Will’s world, there are three rules. Or The Rules. They are 1. Don’t cry 2. Don’t snitch 3. Take revenge. So Will decides to follow the Rules. He feels he knows who killed his brother. So the next day morning, he takes his brother’s gun with him and decides to kill his brother’s murderer. He gets into the lift which goes down. On the next floor someone gets in. This new guy stands behind Will and keeps staring at him. Will gets uncomfortable and asks this guy whether they know each other. And this new guy smiles. And Will suddenly recognizes this guy. And his whole world turns upside down and amazing, unexpected things happen after that.

Long Way Down‘ is a novel written in verse. I thought it will be challenging to read because of the format, but the poetry flows smoothly and the pages move fast. The story is gripping and we can’t wait to find out what happens next. Jason Reynolds has written it in free verse which seems to be the format favoured by poets today, but occasionally he experiments on the way the poem appears on the page, in the style of e.e.cummings, and it is fascinating and beautiful. I’ve shared one of my favourite pages below, which has this style. Hope you like it.

The ending of the story is surprising, and not at all what I expected. One take on it could be that it is open-ended, but the other take which seems to suggest something totally unexpected and makes us go back to the book for clues, that looks more fascinating. I can’t tell you more. If you read the book, I’d love to discuss the ending with you.

I loved ‘Long Way Down‘. So happy I got to read my first Jason Reynolds book. Hoping to read more.

Have you read ‘Long Way Down’? Which is your favourite Jason Reynolds book?

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The Coral Island‘ by Scottish writer R.M.Ballantyne was one of the first books to come out in the genre, that used to be called ‘juvenile fiction’. These days we call it Young Adult literature. So, this was one of the first ever YA books. It came out in 1858. I read an abridged version of it when I was a kid and I loved it. I always wanted to read the full version. So I was happy to read it today.

The narrator of the book is Ralph Rover. When the story happens, Ralph is a teenager working in a ship. The ship is sailing to the South Seas. There are two other teenagers in the ship, Jack Martin and Peterkin Gay. Ralph becomes close friends with them. When the ship reaches the South Seas, it gets caught in the middle of a storm. Ralph, Jack and Peterkin end up shipwrecked on an island. What happens to them, and the adventures they have, form the rest of the story.

The book can be roughly divided into two parts. The first part shows the three friends in the island, and how they discover new things there, and how they survive there. It is like reading Robinson Crusoe’s story but with three teenagers instead of one grownup man, and instead of it being philosophical, it has new discoveries, adventures and lots of fun. In the second part, there are pirates and cannibals and further adventures. I loved the first part more than the second part. The description of the island and the flora and fauna in the first part was detailed and beautiful. Peterkin Gay was my favourite character in the book – he was talkative and funny and was a bundle of energy and lifted the spirits of his friends with his sense of humour. One of the things I loved about the book was that it gives a description of surfing in the ocean by the South Sea islanders. It was interesting that surfing originated as a sport in these islands before it spread across the world.

Being one of the pioneering books in its genre, we can spot the ways in which ‘The Coral Island‘ might have influenced future adventure books. For example, Jim Hawkins from ‘Treasure Island‘ looks like another version of Ralph Rover. There is a pirate in ‘The Coral Island’ who takes Ralph under his wing, who looks a lot like a combination of the pirate Bill and Long John Silver from ‘Treasure Island’. There is a pirate captain in this book who looks a lot like Wolf Larsen from ‘The Sea Wolf‘. It looks like R.L.Stevenson and Jack London (and maybe others too) were inspired by this book and might have borrowed elements from it.

There is some bad news, though. ‘The Coral Island’ hasn’t aged well, especially the second part of the book. There is a distinct religious tone which seeps into the second part and the caricaturish depictions of the South Sea islanders, mostly as people who are cannibals who eat each other, is laughable and jars our 21st century sensibilities. I think these were probably glossed over in the abridged version that I read as a kid.

For a hundred years, ‘The Coral Island’ was a popular adventure story among kids. Then in 1954, William Golding took the core story from this book and put those teenagers in an island, but instead of them having adventures, he made the story dark and bleak and made them do bad things. He called his book ‘Lord of the Flies‘. Golding’s book became big, it got into recommended reading lists in schools and colleges, and it won Golding the Nobel Prize. ‘The Coral Island’ and its author R.M.Ballantyne slowly faded into the mists of time. Today, except for this book, all of Ballantyne’s books are out-of-print. However, many of them are available as digital copies in Gutenberg.

R.M.Ballantyne was a very prolific writer and wrote more than 80 books, most of which were YA adventure stories like this one, set in different parts of the world. He did his research before writing a book – not like people do today by googling or searching in Wikipedia, but actually going to the places which were featured in the story, living there for a while, and sometimes working there. One can feel that authenticity coming through in ‘The Coral Island’ in his descriptions of the places and of nature. How he managed to do this extensive kind of first-hand research in the 19th century, when travelling was hard, boggles our imagination.

Ballantyne wrote a sequel to ‘The Coral Island’. I remember reading it as a kid. I’m not sure I’ll read it again. But Ballantyne has also written a couple of nonfiction books, one about his experiences in the Hudson Bay and another about his experiences in bookmaking. I want to read them. There is also a novel of his called ‘The Young Fur Traders‘ which I want to read.

Surprisingly for a YA book, ‘The Coral Island’ has some beautiful passages. I’m sharing some of them below for your reading pleasure.

“The morning was exceedingly lovely. It was one of that very still and peaceful sort which made the few noises that we heard seem to be quiet noises (I know no other way of expressing this idea) – noises which, so far from interrupting the universal tranquillity of earth, sea, and sky, rather tended to reveal to us how quiet the world round us really was. Such sounds as I refer to were, the peculiarly melancholy – yet, it seemed to me, cheerful – plaint of sea birds floating on the glassy water or sailing in the sky, also the subdued twittering of little birds among the bushes, the faint ripples on the beach, and the solemn boom of the surf upon the distant coral reef. We felt very glad in our hearts as we walked along the sands side by side. For my part, I felt so deeply overjoyed that I was surprised at my own sensations, and fell into a reverie upon the causes of happiness. I came to the conclusion that a state of profound peace and repose, both in regard to outward objects and within the soul, is the happiest condition in which man can be placed; for although I had many a time been most joyful and happy when engaged in bustling, energetic, active pursuits or amusements, I never found that such joy or satisfaction was so deep or so pleasant to reflect upon as that which I now experienced… My reader must not suppose that I thought all this in the clear and methodical manner in which I have set it down here. These thoughts did indeed pass through my mind, but they did so in a very confused and indefinite manner, for I was young at that time, and not much given to deep reflection. Neither did I consider that the peace whereof I write is not to be found in this world – at least in its perfection…”

“Rest is sweet as well for the body as for the mind. During my long experience, amid the vicissitudes of a chequered life, I have found that periods of profound rest at certain intervals, in addition to the ordinary hours of repose, are necessary to the well being of man. And the nature as well as the period of this rest varies, according to the different temperaments of individuals, and the peculiar circumstances in which they may chance to be placed. To those who work with their minds, bodily labour is rest. To those who labour with the body, deep sleep is rest. To the downcast, weary, and the sorrowful, joy and peace are rest. Nay, further, I think that to the gay, the frivolous, the reckless, when sated with pleasures that cannot last, even sorrow proves to be rest of a kind, although, perchance, it were better that I should call it relief than rest. There is, indeed, but one class of men to whom rest is denied – there is no rest to the wicked.”

Have you read ‘The Coral Island‘? What do you think about it?

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